Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix Heikki Kovalainen Q: Heikki, your run of points-scoring finishes ended in China... HK: I know, and it couldn't have been closer: Coulthard was right in front of me, but I ...
Comments from the Renault team ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix
Q: Heikki, your run of points-scoring finishes ended in China...
HK: I know, and it couldn't have been closer: Coulthard was right in front of me, but I couldn't get past him in the dry! It was a tough afternoon for the whole team, and disappointing not to score points because we had the pace to do it. But I made a mistake in qualifying, our strategy didn't work out in the early laps, and that was enough to mean we didn't score. But as always, you have to find the positives: the car was actually pretty quick on Sunday, we made the right choices in reacting to the conditions, and the reliability was perfect once again. I have finished every race this year, and that's something we are all proud of.
Q: Tell us about Interlagos...
HK: It is a very physical circuit for the drivers: the surface is bumpy, and it runs anti-clockwise which means it is hard for the whole body but especially the neck. So I have been training hard to prepare for it, and I will be in peak condition for the final race.
Q: In terms of set-up, what will your priorities be when working with the engineers?
HK: I think the suspension is one of the most important factors. The cars needs to ride the bumps well, and also the kerbs in the slow middle sector, which we use quite a lot. If you can find a good suspension compromise to give smooth ride and good mechanical grip, then it is a big plus in terms of lap-time.
Q: Does the fact that this is the last race of the year change anything in your approach?
HK: It gives me extra determination. This is our last chance of the year to show what we can do. You are only as good as your last race in Formula 1, so it is important to score a good result to take into the winter, and hopefully give the team some momentum too. This has been a tough year for everybody at Renault, but we have made progress in the last few weeks and not been able to show it in dry race conditions. Brazil is a circuit where the team has had a lot of success in recent years and while that doesn't mean anything for 2007, maybe it can bring us a bit of luck. I hope we can have a normal race, take the fight to BMW and finish the season with a strong, aggressive drive.
Q: Giancarlo, how does it feel to be racing in Interlagos once again?
GF: This is one of the special circuits in Formula 1, and I am really excited to be going back there again. We have won championships there in the past two years, and for me it was the venue for my first ever F1 win in 2003. I enjoy the country, I enjoy the city and I like the circuit: it is challenging, and there is always an amazing atmosphere there. Hopefully, we can have another good experience there in 2007.
Q: You had a tough afternoon in China...
GF: Yes, it started on Saturday really: we only found a problem with the car at the end of morning practice, then I made a small mistake on my timed lap in qualifying, and it was so close that we didn't even get through Q1. After that, we knew it would be a hard race, but I drove to the limit, passed a lot of cars and showed that the car was actually pretty competitive by setting fourth-fastest lap. But we ran very heavy at the start of the race, expecting heavier rain, and that put us on the back foot from the first stint. It was a shame because the potential was there for much more.
Q: What is the Interlagos circuit like to drive?
GF: It is a very challenging circuit. It is twisty, with a good mix of slow and medium speed corners. There is a lot of gradient change as well, and of course the anti-clockwise direction that makes it hard physically. It is never easy to find the right set-up, because the two halves of the circuit need opposite things from the car: you want good speed on the long main straight, but lots of grip in the slow-speed infield section with the hairpins. Add in the bumpy surface as well, and you have a real challenge for the engineers to find the best compromise. We tend to run with quite light wing levels, and then work hard to get good mechanical grip, especially under traction.
Q: Flavio, what's your verdict on Renault's 2007 season?
FB: It has been a disappointment, but it has been a lesson for next season, when we will come back even stronger. In many ways, our lack of performance was the result of the year we had in 2006: we had to push even harder in 2006 when the mass damper was banned, we started late with our 2007 car and we had trouble adjusting to the Bridgestone tyres. That left us on the back foot, and we haven't caught up during the season.
Q: Were you surprised that the team didn't catch BMW during the season?
FB: Honestly, not really. From early on, we knew it would be a big challenge to catch them in the championship. We had to take time and understand our problems before moving forward. In the meantime, they were doing an excellent job: improving the car at every race, and taking steps forward each week. We should congratulate them on their season. Once we knew the championship position was gone, we put all our resources into 2008. That has been our focus for two months now.
Q: What has been the reaction of Renault President Carlos Ghosn to this year's results?
FB: Mr Ghosn understands Formula 1, he understands that you cannot win every year and the team has his total support. He wants to see Renault fighting at the front again, like all of us, and we are working to achieve that.
Q: Can the 2008 Renault be a winning car again?
FB: There is no point making big claims at this stage, five months before the first race. But I see no logical reason why not. We know how to make a car for these tyres now, which we didn't a year ago. The wind tunnel results for the R28 look very promising. And the team is the same on, they haven't forgotten how to make a quick car. I have a good feeling that we can climb back to our normal position next year.
Q: Talk about the performance of your drivers this season, Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen...
FB: Giancarlo has done a very solid, very good job for us this year. His asset is his experience, and that was very important to us in the early races when the car was not performing well. Look at races like Monaco: he took everything from the package there. He knows what a title-winning car is like to drive, and he helped guide our development. I am very pleased with him.
As for Heikki, it was a difficult start -- but since the middle of the year, people have seen the talent we knew was there all along. As a rookie, it is difficult to shine if you are not in a top car, but for me he has been one of the revelations of the season. He is getting better with every race.
Q: About the team's drivers for 2008, when will you be making an announcement?
FB: There is no rush to make an announcement at this stage. When we are ready and we have made our decision, we will announce it. But we are in a strong position with good options.
Q: Is Fernando Alonso among those options?
FB: There has been a lot of talk but Fernando has a contract with another team for 2008. At the moment, he is focused on the championship battle, trying to win a third consecutive title. I have said before that if he was free we would be happy to have him back at Renault.
Q: The team has been supplying engines to Red Bull Racing during 2007. Has it been a success?
FB: I believe so, yes. Our engine is reliable and competitive, and our approach has been open and fair. We have given Red Bull Racing the same equipment and support as the works team has received, and that is a unique situation in the paddock. Their performances have been further proof of the quality of Renault's technology.
Q: Rumours have surfaced that Renault might be talking to Prodrive about supplying cars for 2008?
FB: I don't know where this has come from. We have had zero contact with Prodrive, and we are not in a position to supply another team at this point.
Q: This time last year, the Renault team was involved in a championship decider. Twelve months on, who do you think will take the crown?
FB: This is the big pressure moment for all three drivers, and the guy at the front has the most pressure of all. For me, the favourite is still Fernando. He has the experience, he has been there before and he has always been fast in Brazil, which is a difficult and unusual circuit. I think he will be given fair treatment, and he has the mental strength to do the job. But many factors can still intervene and play a role: the weather, Massa, even some other teams as well. It will be a dramatic weekend, and a fantastic showcase for Formula 1.
Q: Finally, the ING Renault F1 Team put on its own show in Mexico City last weekend. Tell us about that...
FB: We held one of our biggest ever Roadshow events on Saturday and Sunday in Mexico City. Everybody knows how strong the passion for racing is in Mexico, and Renault was proud to be able to bring F1 to the streets of the capital. It was a spectacular show, and this is just the kind of thing the sport should be doing to attract new fans: it is free for the people, they can get close to the team and drivers, and it is a big celebration of everything that is good about our sport. I am very proud that Renault leads the way in these events.
Over at Red Bull Racing with Fabrice Lom
Q: Fabrice, what are your thoughts on the last two races?
Fabrice Lom: I've got mixed feelings. On the one hand we made a definite step forward in terms of performance in the past few weeks, but we missed a number of opportunities to score points. We're still behind Williams in the championship and really we should be in front.
Q: Presumably this strong end of year performance bodes well for 2008?
FL: We are being cautious about 2008. There are a lot of changes on the technical front, and teams like Renault and BMW are now focusing on next year while we are still developing the 2007 car. I think these different approaches have distorted the field a little, but Red Bull Racing has a clear development strategy and we are confident.
Q: Both drivers have new engines for Brazil. Are you able to get extra performance from them, as they must only do one race?
FL: That's what we would do in an ideal world, but it's no longer really possible. The engine specification is frozen and maximum revs are capped, so it is difficult to increase performance. The only thing we can say is that a brand new engine is always a little more powerful than a V8 doing its second event, and every little bit extra is welcome under the current rules.
Q: What are the technical demands of Interlagos?
FL: Engine power is critical at this circuit because of the long main straight. But the circuit is also at altitude, which costs the engines around 7% of their power and makes life easier for the pistons. The other important area to work on is driveability: smooth power delivery through the infield can bring real benefits in terms of maintaining a stable car balance, and thus in lap time.